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Virus drops Aust emissions to 1998 levels

Grounded commercial aircraft due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic are seen parked at the Asia Pacific Aircraft Storage facility in Alice Springs, Sunday, August 30, 2020. Aircraft including the Airbus A380s and  Boeing MAX 8s are being stored at the Alice Springs facility because central Australia's dry climate makes it a suitable place for long-term aircraft storage. (AAP Image/Darren England) NO ARCHIVING

Grounded commercial aircraft due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic are seen parked at the Asia Pacific Aircraft Storage facility in Alice Springs, Sunday, August 30, 2020. (AAP Image/Darren England) 

COVID-19 has helped push down Australia's carbon emissions to pre-2000 levels in an inadvertent environmental fillip from the pandemic.

The March quarterly update of the nation's greenhouse gas inventory, published on Monday, indicates preliminary emissions fell as low as 518 million tonnes for the year to June.

That's the nation's lowest level of emissions observed since 1998, but the figure will need to be confirmed in a final report due for release later this year.

According to preliminary data, the nation's carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2-e) in the June quarter was about 10 million tonnes or eight per cent lower than the same quarter last year.

Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor said coronavirus restrictions on livelihoods and freedom of travel had substantially reduced emissions.

"With the impacts of COVID-19 restrictions being felt across the economy, emissions have reduced as expected," Mr Taylor said.

With state and international borders shut to tourists, transport sector emissions fell dramatically with major reductions in jet fuel (79 per cent) and petrol (26.7) consumption.

Overall, liquid fuel emissions were 17.9 per cent lower compared to the 2019 June quarter.

Before the pandemic hit Australia in March, the report estimated emissions fell 1.4 per cent to 528.7 million tonnes over the year to that month after annual decreases from the electricity (4.2 per cent), transport (0.4) and agriculture (5.5) sectors.

It means Australia's greenhouse gas emissions are 14.3 per cent below what levels were in mid-2005, the baseline for its 2030 Paris Agreement target.

The quarterly report put the fall in electricity emissions down to a 5.5 per cent reduction in coal generation and 12.2 per cent rise in renewable energy supply to the National Electricity Market.

As for the decline in agricultural emissions, it explained recent drought conditions had led to a contraction of livestock population and fertiliser use among farmers.

Meanwhile, emissions from exports were up 1.9 per cent - accounting for 38.6 per cent of total emissions driven by an 11.1 per cent year-on-year rise in liquefied natural gas being shipped overseas.

Mr Taylor has previously argued LNG exports help to reduce global emissions from international importers by replacing the burning of coal.

Final emissions data for the June quarter and 2019-20 financial year will be published in late November 2020.

© AAP 2020

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